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Benett: Welcome to the Jungle

Jason Thompson


Welcome to the Jungle

Label: March
US Release Date: 2007-02-27
UK Release Date: 2002-06-10

That Benett is one crazy lady. Very groovy and very cool, mind you, but she's definitely not your typical female singer-songwriter. Or is she even that? Probably best not to slap a label on this woman or her music, as she tends to pull out various surprises throughout this album. I'd like to say that perhaps Benett is the female Beck, but then that might attach some kind of dull stigma onto her that isn't needed. So scratch that.

What Benett definitely is -- is very, very good and very intriguing. A former member of the group Charles Brown Superstar, Welcome to the Jungle finds Benett walking all over the pop / folk / experimental map and having a heyday with whatever she stumbles upon to suit her fancy. This is apparent from the very first track, "Don't Look for Me", which starts out as a sweet little indie rock tune that would be perfect for a summer's day. Benett has one of those charming schoolgirl kind of voices that has its rough edges that add to the charm. But by the end of the song, some decidedly dirty and noisy guitar lines wreak melodic havoc all over the tune, as if J Mascis just walked in to the studio. It's insanely grating at points, but strangely pretty all at the same time, setting the hook for the rest of the album.

That is not to say that Benett is grating. On the contrary, she makes very enjoyable music, but she does like to slip the banana peel into the songs when you're least expecting it. The sugary "Must Be the Whiskey" seems like it's going to be a kind of long lost Archies' kind of groove for the first two-thirds of the song, but then all of a sudden it erupts at the end in a frenzied sort of Banana Splits-fuzzed-out-Saturday-morning-psychedelic explosion from left field. It turns a pleasant, yet predictable tune into something more. Something that makes you need to hear more Benett.

"All of Me" begins with the sound of a tolling church bell, reminiscent of John Lennon's "Mother" before bursting into a groovy, '60s power pop crunch with wah wah guitars in full bloom. Then, suddenly at the bridge, this Donna Summer "I Feel Love" bass synth starts percolating along with some bongos and another insanely distorted guitar solo before coming back somewhat into an Apollo Smile style rocked-up fade out. What the hell is going on here?

"My Death March" only fogs up the glass even more. A strange instrumental, complete with laser gun sounds, clanging, and a musical score that can safely be described as "the true sequel to the Silver Apples" (remember, they were the guys from the '60s who did all their "music" on various oscillators and drums). It's undoubtedly Welcome to the Jungle's strangest moment and its most experimental.

On "This Fever", Benett plays it straight, going for a funky lo-fi sound and acoustic guitar that was miked too loudly causing it to distort, once gain allowing her to really not play it straight by forcing a fucked up quality upon an otherwise every day tune. Still, it's cool that she wreaks even subtle havoc with her music, as that's all part of the strange Benett formula that is so hard to figure out.

The rest of the album is just as enigmatic. "Geneva" sports a carnival like organ melody that gives way to a cavity inducing bubblegum groove. And "Just Because I Loved You (In the Summertime)" contains everything from cheap keyboard percussion to backwards loops and all sorts of strange electronic notes and tones. Not content to just stay in one groove, Benett grabs everything that she finds in the studio and goes on a wild rampage. Too good for words.

What is detectable here, though, is that Benett certainly likes a kind of '60s bent to her sound underneath all the weirdness. And it works quite well for her. Her AM Gold style of songwriting is impeccable, and it all culminates in the eight-minute epic "Moon Song" that closes the album, complete with strings and a larger than life homemade Phil Spector atmosphere.

Welcome to the Jungle is nothing but a treat. Some may find Benett's experiments haphazard, but I disagree. You can't experiment without coming up with some strange mutations, and here, Benett has chosen to include those, making for an album that is pretty much an exercise in originality from track to track. Ah, to put it simply: I really dig this album a lot. And if you're in the mood for some catchy girl pop with a lot of surprises around every bend, you'll probably fall in love with Benett, too.

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